FROM Washington, D.C., to Seattle, millions of labor, environmental, community and human-rights activists are raising their voices in an otherwise quiet discussion on the future of our global economy.
Advocates for fair trade in Washington state are concerned about the position of our congressional delegation when it comes to free-trade pacts that would threaten our families, our jobs and our access to clean water and clean air.
U.S. lawmakers are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a massive trade pact with 11 other countries — including Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam and others — that could cost us our jobs and jeopardize our clean air and water by backtracking environmental protections.
Trade can be a good thing if it’s done responsibly. As environmentalists and electrical workers, we can come together to support trade deals if they improve our economy, protect our environment and uplift our overall quality of life. But from what we’ve seen, the TPP would lead us in the opposite direction by offshoring our jobs, eroding our wages, and leaving environmental and consumer protections vulnerable to attack from corporations.
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We already know how free-trade deals hurt our jobs and wages. The U.S. was promised economic prosperity from opening up trade with Canada and Mexico 20 years ago with the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. But this ultimately hasn’t been the case. The deal has led to job displacement in all 50 states, including a net loss of 10,800 Washington jobs. That net loss has cost Washington’s economy and wages.
The TPP would make things even worse because we’ll be competing with corporations relocating to countries like Vietnam, where the average minimum wage is a meager 56 cents per hour.
This agreement would also allow foreign corporations to sue the U.S. over laws that they allege could cut into their profits. That includes laws designed to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food on our dinner tables. Washington’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the tab to defend American laws against foreign corporations using secret court systems.
As if these corporate powers aren’t a big enough threat to our environment, the chapter of the trade deal dedicated especially to the environment won’t do much to help, from what we know. A draft of the chapter was leaked earlier this year, showing weak language about all of the region’s main conservation issues — oceans, fish, wildlife and forest protections. Without fully enforceable environmental safeguards in the Pacific Rim region, natural wonders like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Peru’s Amazon rain forest, and Washington’s Olympic National Park could be destroyed.
It comes as no surprise that the American people are not fooled by these trade agreements. According to a bipartisan poll — found at fasttrackpoll.info — 62 percent of voters oppose giving President Obama “fast track” authority over the TPP. With fast track, Congress would not be allowed to make any changes to the deal before it’s signed. This is such a bad deal that 43 percent of voters — including 68 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of independents — stated that they would be less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported fast track.
We hope that each member of our Washington congressional delegation will join us in the fight to protect our jobs, wages, environment, food, prescription drugs, health and national sovereignty by making a public commitment to oppose fast tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Nicole Grant is the executive director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington and statewide political coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Kathleen Ridihalgh is the Sierra Club’s senior regional organizing manager.